SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A gay couple from California, arrested earlier this week in Dominica for alleging having sex “in open view,” are disputing accounts of the incident by the cruise operator and the Caribbean island’s authorities, and said that while in custody they were paraded around like animals.
In their first interview back on U.S. territory following their ordeal, Dennis Mayer, 53, a retired deputy sheriff, told the Associated Press that he has no doubt they were arrested in Dominica because they are gay.
Police said that Mayer, and his partner of 17 years, John Hart, 41, were arrested because they were seen having sex in public on the balcony of their ship’s cabin.
Mayer said they were not having sex, and that they were “partially clothed.”
According to Mayer, the trouble began shortly after the cruise ship Celebrity Summit docked Wednesday morning at Dominica in the eastern Caribbean. Mayer and Hart were in their room when they got a call from a cruise ship official that the ship’s captain wanted to speak to them, reported The Washington Post.
The couple was met by three cruise ship officials and six Dominica police officers. After the men were interviewed separately by police, Mayer said the ship’s assistant captain told them, “At this time, we are going to eject you from the ship. We have zero tolerance toward your behavior.”
Mayer said that he and Hart were denied legal representation and subjected to a nearly four-hour interrogation by a high-ranking police official who threatened to take them to a clinic and have them medically examined for proof of homosexual activity.
The two men were charged with indecent exposure and put in a five-by-eight-foot cell to await an appearance before a magistrate.
“The treatment was inhumane,” Mayer said. “We were detained for approximately 26 hours, and 19 of those locked in a cement cell, which had no running water, no toilet, no lights. It stunk of feces and urine. It was infested with cockroaches, ants and bugs.”
Mayer said police brought in government officials to look at them.
“They paraded many people by to look in on us as if we were some type of animal, which was quite humiliating,” he said. “People got great joy in the pleasure of taunting us.”
Mayer and Hart were initially charged with “buggery,” an offense equivalent to sodomy, and indecent exposure, but the “buggery” charge was later dropped.
The two men appeared in the Dominican court Thursday and pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of indecent exposure and ordered to pay fines of $888 each.
Chief Magistrate Evaline Baptiste called the men “rogues and vagabonds.”
Rich Campbell, President of Atlantis Events, the tour operator, told the Los Angeles Times that the arrests had nothing to do with the men’s sexuality.
“They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Campbell said. “Sodomy laws do exist. But that’s not what they were called into question for. That has nothing to do with this.”
Campbell said that cruise personnel worked hard to convince Dominica officials not to detain the men overnight. When authorities refused, the company offered to leave a cruise official with the men until the situation was resolved.
The men declined the assistance, and Campbell said they were in “good spirits” when he last spoke with them.
“We’ve been going to the Caribbean for 21 years now,” Campbell said. “I’ve taken 50,000 guests there without any incidents.”
Under the island’s sodomy law, sex between men is illegal and persons found guilty could face up to ten years in prison.
The couple are now headed back to their home in Palm Springs, Calif.